Baylor football begins a much-needed reset under new head coach Matt Rhule
So... anything new in Waco?
Baylor torched all the vestiges of the Art Briles era at the end of the 2016 season. Ex-Temple head coach Matt Rhule is the new sheriff in town, bringing with him an impressive record of success and a fondness for hard-nosed, physical football.
Given how things ended under the previous regime, a top-to-bottom overhaul of the program was warranted. Rhule will need time, however, to put his stamp on everything from the scheme to the culture to the personnel. It might be a rough transition from the most successful on-field period in school history.
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1. Rhule’s new rules
Any coaching change involves some natural switching costs. They could be particularly high in this case.
Rhule will undoubtedly look to let everyone in the program know right away who’s boss. It’s not uncommon for some of the holdovers to buck in these kinds of scenarios. A few transfers at the end of spring football shouldn’t surprise anyone.
2. Inexperience everywhere
Of course, so many Bears have left the program in the last year already that it might cut down on the roster upheaval this offseason. The defections included the standouts from a 2016 recruiting class that was pillaged by Baylor’s Big 12 brethren as scandal engulfed the program.
Rhule inked 27 signees in the 2017 recruiting cycle, and a number of them will likely see the field in the fall. A handful of the newcomers are already on campus as early enrollees, so Rhule and his assistants can take advantage of the 15 spring practices to start preparing them to contribute right away.
3. Matching personnel to the offensive scheme
Temple played a grinding offensive style under Rhule. As evidence, the Owls only ran about 69 bruising plays per game in the last two seasons. Conversely, Baylor constantly pushed the tempo on offense, snapping the ball about 85 times per game in 2015 and ‘16.
The Bears will need to acclimate themselves to not only a more deliberate tempo, but also less emphasis on spreading the field. Instead, they can expect more focus on winning at the point of attack. As such, the players who excelled in Briles’ offense might not in the new system.
4. The triggerman
A big factor in how well the transition goes on offense: the play of the quarterback.
Zach Smith gave the new coaching staff something to think about with a scintillating performance in the Cactus Bowl at the end of last season against Boise State. The freshman completed 28 of 39 pass attempts for 375 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in the Bears’ 31-12 win.
Yet, Anu Solomon isn’t enrolling at BU just to get a chance to watch Smith from the sidelines. The Arizona graduate transfer will try to stake his claim to the job in the offseason too.
The QB race starts this spring.
5. How quickly will the defenders pick up the new scheme?
Without question, Baylor lost some of the top players from the ‘16 defense – Orion Stewart, Aiavion Edwards, Patrick Levels. As of now, count defensive back Travon Blanchard in that group following his suspension in late February.
Returnees such as Taylor Young and Raaquan Davis do offer some hope for the near future of the D, though. A productive spring will be crucial to getting the returning contributors acclimated to the plan of attack of Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow.
Pre-Spring Outlook for Baylor in the Big 12
Matt Rhule did superb work at Temple. In fact, Baylor might have lured a better football coach out of the American Athletic Conference than the folks in Austin. Still, he’ll be swimming against the current of the Brazos River for a few years as his program recovers from the scandals that rightfully doomed Art Briles.
The Bears might have enough talent left on the roster to avoid a total implosion in the first season under the new coaching staff. In that sense, securing a bowl bid might be a reasonable goal. It could be the last postseason playing opportunity for a few years, however.
It has been a while since Baylor was routinely setting up shop in the Big 12’s basement. Unfortunately for the Bears, a return to the lean years pre-Art Briles might be on the horizon.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.
(Matt Rhule photo courtesy of @CoachMattRhule)